Mexican wet dream: carnitas and Riesling

Above: Pulpo al Carbon at Hugo’s (Houston), grilled and marinated octopus with housemade salsa and three different kinds of peppers and warm pillowy blue corn tortillas. HIGHLY recommended.

The caliber and quality (and sheer fun) of Mexican food in Texas continues to blow me away (and this comes from a Southern California dude who grew up traveling in Mexico).

Wednesday night found me with cousins Joanne and Marty at Houston’s legendary Hugo’s, where my friend Sean Beck has put together what is IMHO the best Mexican restaurant wine list in the country. From an obscenely low-priced bottle of Taittinger La Française to cru Beaujolais (great with Mexican food, btw) and his hand-selected shortlist of German and domestic Riesling, I was like a Mississippi bullfrog on a hollow stump: I just didn’t know which way to jump! (who can name the song?)

Above: Do you know of any Mexican restaurant with such an extensive and well-thought-out wine list? I had never seen anything like and Sean’s recommendation, Schäfer-Fröhlich 2004 Riesling Halbtrocken, was utterly brilliant with my carnitas. Chapeau bas, Sean. Fantastic pairing!

I’m dying to get to the famous Sunday brunch at Hugo’s and I’m sure we will soon. In the meantime, Hugo’s has now formed the triptych of what I consider to be the top high-concept Mexican restaurant in the U.S., together with Fonda San Miguel in Austin and La Serenata in LA (downtown, not westside).

(RdG+BarAnnie could be included in that list but it’s really a Southwestern as opposed to traditional Mexican cuisine restaurant.)

Even though California — from the Mission burritos of SF and the huevos rancheros of Half Moon Bay to the camaronillas of San Diego — is still the leader when it comes to down-and-dirty greasy hole-in-the-wall joints, Texas has the monopoly on the luxury, regionally themed Mexican restaurants in the U.S.

The carnitas — a litmus test for any self-respecting Mexican restaurant — were moist and perfectly seasoned, reminiscent of those I first experiences when I spent the summer of my sixteenth birthday in Mexico City so many moons ago.

Above: Flirtatious nurses tell cousin Marty (left) that he has “excellent veins.” He is in great shape and is an amazing specimen of the human variety — for his fitness of body, mind, and heart.

If there was a somber note at our excellent dinner, it was because we discussed some of the very serious (although under-control) health issues that our beloved cousin Marty is facing right now. Technically, he’s my second cousin (Zane’s first cousin) but he’s more like an uncle to me and Tracie P. I never really had much contact with Joanne and him before I moved to Texas but since I got here, he and family have welcomed us into their homes and lives with immense generosity and love (it’s thanks to Marty that I know Tony!).

I wish all of you could experience Marty’s lusty appetite for great food and wine, engaging conversation, and intellectual pursuit (he’s a constitutional law scholar, btw). Tracie P is always tickled by his “potty mouth” and I hang on to every word and insight that he shares about our family’s history and evolution (I’m named after his father, Ira Levy, Jeremy Ira Parzen). More than anything else, we love to share meals together and some of the most memorable of my life Texana have been with him and company.

We just can’t imagine a world without him and we’re sending him lots of love and good thoughts in this trying time…